Review: Sacred Journeys
The Conversion of Young Americans to Divine Light Mission
James V. Downton Jr.
Downton began his research in 1972. For about a month in Boulder, Colorado, he spent time at the ashram watching, talking to premies, and participating in some of their rituals. He then arranged to interview 18 premies, 13 living in the ashram and 5 on the outside, 50% female, 50% male. Follow-up interviews were conducted over the next several years with seven representative premies and he maintained contact with all 18. In July 1976, an extensive questionnaire was mailed to the 15 who were still premies, exploring their ideas about changes which had taken place in their lives and in the movement since they had joined. Downton's actual contact with DLM was therefore very limited. He did not attend many nightly satsangs, Maharaji's programs (if any) or join in any DLM activities by which he could ascertain whether he was receiving accurate information from his informants. He compounded this problem by relying upon information from a select few premies including Cliff Bowden, Joe Anctil and Lucy DuPertuis who wrote after apostasizing that she "dealt with sociologists who tried to research DLM." They were from the upper echelons of DLM society and supplied him with a very selective view of the upheavals the "Mission" and premies went through over the 1970's.
While Downton quotes parts of a few of Prem Rawat's early speeches he appears to have not listened, watched or read many and these all from 1971 to February 1973. Many of Downton's ideas of premies and Maharaji may be mistaken but only those that have been affected by deliberate premie input or are completely wrong about important parts of DLM will be discussed here.
Even before their initiation, these people were encouraged to invest and sacrifice. They were expected to attend satsang, to do service in the ashram as a sign of sincerity, and to give in any way they could. During the Knowledge session, it was common in 1971-72 for Mahatmas to encourage personal offerings, by way of donations of money and valuables, and gifts for Guru Maharaj Ji were quite common since expressions of thanks to him, as guru, were backed by years of eastern tradition. After their entry into the movement, premies were expected to contribute as much of their time, energy, and resources as possible. Total commitment and surrender were strongly encouraged from several quarters, mainly from the Mahatmas, Guru Maharaj Ji's mother (who had been one of his most ardent supporters before their feud), and other devotees.
I have copies of 12 of Mata Ji's speeches as printed in DLM magazines. In none of them does she call for total commitment and surrender by premies. Guru Maharaj Ji himself was the major proponent of total committment and surrender. The evidence for this is in virtually every speech he ever made (see Appendix 1).
With this goal in mind, gurus encourage their followers to question their own beliefs and concepts as a way of preparing them to see a new world. This has been an overriding appeal in Guru Maharaj Ji's satsang, for starting in 1971 he has urged premies to see through and become detached from concepts.
This concept of becoming detached from your concepts was just one of the many new concepts that Guru Maharaj Ji was teaching. Concepts like believing that satsang, service and meditation and darshan were the purpose of human life, that Guru Maharaj Ji was the Lord, God incarnate and many others were concepts from which a premie was not meant to be detached. The young guru's teachings added lots of new concepts that were to be internalised and accepted as God given.
Like most gurus, Guru Maharaj Ji speaks often about the need to quiet the inner dialogue, recommending meditation as a way to silence the personality's various voices which incessantly jabber within and prevent a direct experience of the spirit.
Guru Maharaj Ji recommended only his own specific forms of meditation as being of any use to destroy "the Mind." He taught that all other gurus were weeds while he was a mighty tree and they were an unnecessary, useless waste of time that he would abolish later in his career.
As 1976 drew to an end, the Mission had been shaken by a number of changes which had relegated Guru Maharaj Ji to the status of "humanitarian leader" and had stimulated more independence on the part of premies. Bureaucratic or corporate principles had replaced the mass movement character of the Mission. Devotion and surrender to Guru Maharaj Ji were being played down by the bureaucratic leadership. As a result of encouragement from the guru, premies were leaving the ashrams in rising numbers. Contributions were falling off, due in part to the decentralization of the organization. And many premies were becoming almost as interested in their personal careers as in the future of the Mission.
In 1975 and 76 Guru Maharaj Ji did not encourage premies to leave the ashram.
Essentially, the movement was in a state of crisis: If the trend continued moving in the direction of bureaucratic domination and excessive individualism, then there was a chance the Mission might lose its mass character and degenerate into a cult, leaving Guru Maharaj Ji's goal of world peace to die for lack of interest, enthusiasm, and manpower.
The trend could hardly be "moving in the direction of bureaucratic domination" when the bureaucracy was resigning en masse. The Mission was never a mass movement. It was always a cult and the "goal of world peace" was always a pipedream.
Reacting to this situation, the guru took the initiative halfway through 1976 by asking two members of the Board of Directors, including the President, to step down from their posts and to assume a different form of service within the movement.
In fact they were fired for attempting to control his finances and curb his spending.
Later that year, he met with premies for a program in Atlantic City. I do not believe this was a calculated attempt on his part to extend his authority, for as early as January he had mentioned the need for more programs: "As you know, when premies receive Knowledge, I become more involved with them, and every year it's been more and more. As a matter of fact, we've been thinking about putting in a few more programs. Why limit it to the dates of Guru Puja? We want to have them so that more premies can come and we can get more involved and that love can evolve around us more and more."
In 1976 the guru attended fewer programs than in previous years.
During the Atlantic City program, a spontaneous feeling of devotion and surrender to the guru occurred, reviving the millennial atmosphere reminiscent of 1971-72, and including the beliefs surrounding his widely acclaimed divinity. Against a background of increasing secularization and bureaucratization, premies were ready for a charismatic renewal. This is the classic struggle between the bureaucratic and charismatic forces in history, which Max Weber considered the dynamic of social change. As a type of authority, bureaucracy leans toward order and efficiency, while charisma introduces creative disorder through heroic leaders who demand the personal loyalty of their followers in order to expand their potential to change the world. It was this conflict between the tendencies of order and disorder which Weber saw as the source of fundamental change in society.
Premies have responded enthusiastically to the call of Initiators (formerly "Mahatmas") for personal rededication to Guru Maharaj Ji. Affected by a growing sense of confusion and despair about the Mission's future by the end of 1976 and by increasingly secular interests, they were ready for a change in their commitment.
Curious to discover how these fifteen premies reacted to this situation, I sent a short questionnaire to them in March 1977. Their responses offer a dramatic and fascinating contrast to their attitudes toward Guru Maharaj Ji just a few months earlier, which is testimony to the power of charisma as a catalyst of social change.
It could be that they were merely expressing "the company line" and Downton's understanding is testimony to his credulity.
For several months after Millennium, the Mission's leadership was preoccupied with internal issues, especially its debt and the problems of commitment. Forces were being regrouped and a great deal of discussion was taking place at all levels about the future of the Mission and what premies could do to get people interested in Guru Maharaj Ji and the Knowledge. This was also a time for organizational change. Needing a focus for their energies, the leadership quite naturally began to reevaluate the structure of the Mission and to propose different ways of realigning its various departments and their functions. In response to the letdown of the festival, many premies were just content to withdraw temporarily into silence and isolation, happy to let the leadership play with their organizational charts and fantasies. This was a time when they were asking themselves why and when: why were they committed and when, if ever, would the goals of the Mission be reached.
The first rumbling of the family feud between Guru Maharaj Ji and his mother began to be heard in 1974 and was soon picked up by the press corps and publicized as still another sign of the decadence of the Mission.
The expression "family feud" is inappropriate. Prem Rawat's mother and elder brothers and the senior figures in the Indian DLM considered that the guru's behaviour and lifestyle was unacceptable for a Satguru. The first sign that there was a problem was probably given at the Phipps Auditorium, Denver Colorado, 2nd May 1974 where Maharaji gave a more than normally confused speech (the unedited transcript of the audio tape is especially revealing) and seems to be saying that his mother and brothers mean nothing to him and that obstructions will soon be coming to him from his family as happened to Guru Nanak and that a Perfect Master only gets a big baloney where he was born according to Tulsi Das.
The beginning of this feud dated back to the time when Guru Maharaj Ji first came to the United States against his mother's wishes. In India, his mother, Mata Ji, and eldest brother, Bal Bhagwan Ji, had exercised a great deal of control over the Mission due to the guru's age. That influence was still quite evident by 1973, for I was told by an official of the Mission that it was they, not Guru Maharaj Ji, who were the main instigators of the Millennium festival. Bal Bhagwan Ji was in charge of the festival and, according to Sophia Collier's account in Soul Rush, he was also the source of many outlandish rumors; that the stock market would dive, that 400,000 would turn up at the festival, and that natural and political disasters would be augmented by the appearance of extraterrestrial phenomena. 3
Sophia Collier (by her own Admission, p161 Soul Rush) disliked Mata Ji on first sight and provides no evidence that Bal Bhagwan Ji was the source of the outlndish rumours about Millenism '73. The TVTV documentary "Lord of the Universe" shows an unnamed premie, Rennie Davis and the "official" Millenium '73 astrologer making bizarre statements and predictions. Bal Bhagwan Ji was a serious and somewhat boring speaker and is a very unlikely source of these rumours that sound like they came from the hippie counter-culture influences.
After the festival, there was a decided change in the guru's attitude about his role in the Mission. Nearly sixteen, he was ready to assume a more active part in deciding what direction the movement should take. This of course meant that he had to encroach on his mother's territory and, given the fact that she was accustomed to having control, a fight was inevitable.
His role in the Mission did not change and neither did any public expression of his attitude. He remained the absolute ruler. There was no inevitability about a "fight" for control of the Mission's direction. The direction was constant: spread the Knowledge was the number 1 command. It did not change.
The end of 1973 saw Guru Maharaj Ji breaking away from his mother and his Indian past. He declared himself the sole source of spiritual authority in the Mission.
In January, February and March 1974 Maharaji and Mata Ji toured the US together sharing the stage and all members of "the Holy Family" gave darshan. He declared himself the sole source of agya in a letter of 9 May 1974 published in the Divine Times June issue along with news of his marriage. He did not attempt to break away from his Indian past in any way related to his role as the Perfect Master.
Maharaji married on May 20th 1974.
My own impressions of the situation fit the official interpretation of what happened next. "In an attempt to maintain control of the Indian Mission and the assets in that country, Mata Ji and Bal Bhagwan Ji returned to India. When they learned of Maharaj Ji's plan to return there for a visit, they mounted a campaign to defame him and to interfere with his expected arrival. Mata Ji said that she was removing Maharaj Ji as Perfect Master because of his 'unspiritual' life-style and his lack of respect for her wishes."
Maharaji had been scheduled to return to India for the 1974 Hans Jayanti festival but in October announced Hans Jayanti would be held in Toronto. Mata Ji did not need to return to India "in an attempt to maintain control." Maharaji had alienated the senior administrators and mahatmas his father had appointed. The claims made by Mata Ji to "defame him" were true though wrong in one respect. He was married and living a playboy lifestyle, eating meat, drinking, living luxuriously and having a strong interest in sex. However, he was not encouraging his devotes to do the same, he was encouraging them to live an ashram lifetsyle. He did disrespect her wish that he not adopt "a despicable, nonspiritual way of life."
During a press conference in Lucknow, India, Guru Maharaj Ji responded to his mother's action by explaining that she had no authority to depose him because a Perfect Master is "self-existent" and no one can appoint or remove him.
Perhaps an even more important factor was his marriage to Marolyn Johnson of San Diego, for she had been a "typical premie" and her marriage to Guru Maharaj Ji somehow symbolized to other premies a deepening of their own relationship to him.
Despite the fawning articles in DLM press many premies were shocked and left the ashrams or even the Mission. 30 years later in the Passages Video some inner circle trustie premies were allowed to acknowledge their true feelings at the time. Pilarzyk quotes a 40 to 80% reduction in ashram residents. Maeve Price who was not being "managed" by premies wrote in The Divine Light Mission as a social organization "This marriage brought about an exodus from the ashrams, the stable core of the mission which had been a vital means of social control, as premies flocked to get married and began to produce their own children, within customary marriage structures. It was an important turning point for the mission. … At the same time, many premies were shaken by the marriage and felt almost betrayed by their leader. It is apparent that the marriage was responsible for a loss of morale and therefore of support for the mission by many premies."
the movement in the United States became even more fully bureaucratized and westernized. Gradually, many of the movement's Indian traditions and rituals were eliminated, even though the Indian overtones of 1971-72 had added an element of mystery which helped to strengthen commitments.
As we know, Mahatmas were demystified. By the end of 1974 they were called "Initiators" and were no longer viewed as "great souls." Many of the Indian Mahatmas who had inspired such awe had either left the movement or had been demoted from their positions as Initiators. Today, American premies become Initiators through application and personal selection by Guru Maharaj Ji. Unlike Mahatmas, who wore the distinctive orange saffron robes, Initiators now wear no special costumes to distinguish themselves from other premies.
Maharaji dressed as Krishna in Sydney at the Opera house and darshan occurred and arti was sung. Maharaji at the Hans Jayanti Festival in Orlando, Florida on the Evening of 9 November 1975: "The Lord Himself reincarnates, reincarnates, reincarnates Himself for the very purpose of saving us." It doesn't seem that Eastern influences, traditions and rituals had been eliminated.
Changes in terminology were made in an attempt to divorce the Mission from its Indian trappings. "Festivals" became "regional conferences." "Holy Company," a term used to describe the state of being in the presence of other premies, fell from use, as did the customary Indian greeting.
Downton is confused about the year
With this weakening of eastern influences, premies began to change their attitudes toward Guru Maharaj Ji. Since the Mission was moving in a more secular direction, it was understandable that premies would begin to view the guru in a less cosmic way. Thus, by 1975 the official line was that Guru Maharaj Ji was to be regarded as "humanitarian leader," rather than Lord of the Universe.
It was not until March 1976 that newspapers were informed of the purported changes in Divine Light Mission. The first mention of this tactic internally was in the Divine Times of May 1976 "Dealing With Change / Part of the Mainstream"
Mr A and Mr B: Guru Maharaj Ji's Satsang, 19 December 1975
The word circulated that Guru Maharaj Ji himself had initiated this change, although apparently that was not the case. For whatever reason, by 1976 it was customary for premies to view him in human rather than divine terms. This change was reflected in the fact that pronouns referring to him were no longer capitalized. His demystification followed the march toward fuller secularization of the movement, which reached such an extreme there were rumors that the movement's name might even be changed to something "less cosmic."
During 1975, premies were turning to encounter group methods within the Mission as a way of extending their own growth and augmenting their sense of community. In December of that year, Guru Maharaj Ji gave the opening satsang at a conference of 250 premies working in the Denver headquarters. During the sessions which followed, various workshop and group dynamics techniques were employed by the Mission's executive leadership. Since the guru had given satsang there, premies assumed he had given his blessings to the use of these psychological processes. This stimulated widespread use of these and similar techniques across the country.
Actually, Guru Maharaj Ji had not liked the idea of the workshops and had not supported them. This came out later when he said he felt the workshops were not of any real benefit to a person seeking an experience of the Truth, then reaffirmed the necessity of satsang for that purpose. In fact, he had been saying that premies should be seeking "real understanding" of their experience and that satsang was the key. "So there's a common understanding that every one of us has to have with each other, and that relationship can only be formed
Maharaji did not comment on the workshops until the end of 1976 in the Frankfurt Conference and the Atlantic City satsang of 21st December. During 1976 nearly all of his satsangs referred back to the time premies first realised they wanted Knowledge and reiterated that satsang, service and meditation was the path.
when we have more satsang. Because what am I doing right now? I'm explaining something to you and I'm putting an idea into you, into your brain: 'What is this?' … I am giving you satsang. There is the Truth behind it, and I am trying to bring you into the company of Truth more and more and more and more. I am trying to bring you to real satsang so we can really understand." 6
So, as Guru Maharaj Ji's position on the encounter groups became clearer even that direction for premies collapsed, causing more confusion about the form their commitments should take. In 1971, premies had their commitments strengthened by surrender, with its underlying mechanisms of identification and conformity. By 1976, the Mission's leadership was apparently discouraging blind surrender. Where, in 1971, premies needed only to conform and obey their "Lord," by 1976 they were being asked to take responsibility to interpret, initiate, and act. Once highly regulated by a set of well defined expectations, the behavior of premies could take many forms, a change which led to even greater ambiguity.
As surrender and devotion were discarded, reliance shifted to the tangible benefits of practicing the Knowledge, of living within the premie community, and of participating more fully within the local areas. This new emphasis on more democratic participation was being well received among premies in 1976, as we hear from one who applauded the idea of dispersing power from the top to the grass roots. "The movement is changing all the time. More and more responsibility is being placed with premies in the local communities for planning and initiating activities. The 'big government' of earlier years is ending and control is being placed at the grass roots level. If I want to get something done I have more freedom to get together with other premies and just do it, rather than waiting to see if its all right. People like to see results, whether it is child care, a satsang program, or a fund-raiser. Results can come from individual communities and can fit premie needs."
After shuffling the top leadership of the Mission, Guru Maharaj Ji began to decentralize organizational initiative and power by turning some of the decision-making over to local premie communities, while he maintained his status as the ultimate authority over spiritual
and secular matters. This move stimulated another change in the movement by encouraging independent action on the part of premies. For example, the guru had inspired greater autonomy by saying in January 1976: "Don't expect that all these premies who are in the ashram right now are going to stay in the ashram. I hope they don't." 7 This comment had the effect of producing a widespread exodus from the ashrams that year, which gave rise to an individualistic attitude. This was reflected in Alan's outlook at the close of 1976. "Everyone is beginning to see that Divine Light Mission is just a bunch of people trying to meditate and love each other. All the holier-than-thou bullshit is crumbling. I don't have to wait for Guru Maharaj Ji to communicate through all the layers of leadership to me in order to learn what I need to know. Just a few months ago, I was still looking to Denver for guidance, but that is changing."
Alan felt this change in attitude was actually initiated at every level of the organization, but mostly with premies who were sincere about what they were doing and no longer needed a Board of Directors to tell them what to do, and how and when to do it. The tendency was to minimize the emphasis on converting the masses, which was a sign premies were becoming more committed to their individual paths than to the collective undertaking they had begun together. Alan expressed this general lack of commitment to maintain and expand the movement. "Only the necessities, such as taking care of Guru Maharaj Ji, arranging tours, etc., will be taken care of by the central organization of the Mission. Everything else will be taken care of by the local premie communities. The current growth is not in numbers but in spirit. I don't have any save-the-world delusions anymore. Perhaps soon we will be ready to actively spread the Knowledge again. Meanwhile, I'm going to relax and enjoy myself. I'm not worried about the fate of the Mission. I don't feel compelled to try to convert people just to expand our membership. I also don't feel compelled to restrain people who choose to leave the ashram or the Mission."
The sense of independence expressed by Alan was the trend by the close of 1976. It was a contributing factor, I feel, in the exodus, of premies from the ashrams, the emphasis on the development of ca-
reers outside the Mission, the group dynamics phase, and the general lack of interest in propagation. "A quick look at Divine Light Mission today might lead one to believe that it is falling to pieces," Alan said that year. "In fact, Divine Light Mission, as we know it, may not exist too much longer. Premies are now leaving the ashrams in droves-officially, at the rate of 2 to 3 per day. That may not seem like much, but, at that rate all the ashrams will be empty by the end of the year. The staff in Denver was 250 just a couple of months ago. Now it is 80. Donations have dropped in half. Nobody knows for sure what is happening, why it is happening, or if we will weather the crisis."
Confused, premies were ready for a change which would stabilize the situation and provide some coherence to their place in the Mission and the Mission's place in the world. Trying to escape this unstable balance, they were beginning to return to the ashrams on their own in the fall of 1976. During the Atlantic City program, they were ready for a charismatic revival, for it promised to create order from the chaos. (In early 1976 I had written that the Mission seemed to be showing signs of increasing social disorganization as a result of the individualistic trend premies were following. At the time, I wondered if the Mission's days as a mass movement were over.)
Since the charismatic resurgence of 1977, there have been few indications the movement is returning to the form of bureaucratic domination which characterized its operations from 1974 to 1976. Today, the guru appears to be organizing the Mission around meditation rather than management principles. In November 1976, he referred to changes toward a more managerial mentality in the Mission as "only cosmetic and totally unnecessary. It's like trying to take a cow and put lipstick on it. You can do it, but its unnecessary in practical terms and in terms of any practical purpose. … Already these changes have severely affected the premies in America and these changes have also brought about questions that were put to me. … The changes were intended to make the organization more efficient. … I feel that the kind of approach that was taken was wrong, that it didn't bring efficiency. Actually, it brought deficiency into the system." 8
He went on to discuss a more effective basis for the organization. "There's a much better chance of efficiency in our kind of organization because we understand one basic thing. We understand one fundamental thing and that is Knowledge. … Divine Light Mission not only has its purpose but you have to imagine that without Guru Maharaj Ji, all of those purposes are totally useless. … If you ask the question, what came first, Guru Maharaj Ji or the Mission, the answer is clear as possible that Guru Maharaj Ji came and made the Mission. So whose Mission is this? It is Guru Maharaj Ji's Mission." 9
It would be easy to construe this statement as an affirmation of his own authority were it not for the fact that he often uses the name "Guru Maharaj Ji" in a much broader sense. At a conference in January 1976, a premie asked him what he meant when he used the term "Guru Maharaj Ji." Question: "It confuses me when you speak of Guru Maharaj Ji and yourself as different - that Maharaj Ji has taught you or Maharaj Ji teaches or leads you - when you're Maharaj Ji." Answer: "Guru Maharaj Ji that gave me this Knowledge is my guru and that's whom I am referring to. Of course it's not physical. What I am actually referring to is that omnipotent power." Question: "You mean God?" Answer: "Well, we can't really harness Him down into words. It would be kind of hard." 10
Thus, we need to be reminded that the connection to Guru Maharaj Ji which premies feel is not simply to the guru as teacher, but to the inner Guru Maharaj Ji, or Knowledge, which we could call "God." What was going wrong in 1976, according to one member, was that premies had quit meditating attentively, because the knowledge experience had lost some of its novelty, as a result of familiarity, and thus some of its deeper significance. What the charismatic revival promised, then, was a deeper experience of God.
Signs of rededication both to Guru Maharaj Ji and the inner guru became quite apparent. Most of the premies who left the ashrams in the summer of 1976 began to return in 1977, when more than 600 signed up to enter the ashrams in just a few month's time. According to recent reports, ashram life is going to take a different form, with less involvement directly in the organizational work of the
Mission and less control from the top. Instead, it will be more locally based, supported, and controlled. The plans call for an Initiator to live in each ashram to make the Knowledge experience more accessible to people. The ashram may also function, at least in some places, as a short-term retreat from the world for nonashram premies.
Today, in 1979, there is more talk about propagation, although the emphasis is different. Leafleting and direct recruiting on the street are being played down. Instead, premies are being asked to express their understanding of the Knowledge in their daily interactions so others might see the benefits of the Knowledge as it applies to the practical issues of living.
The most striking changes in the attitudes of premies up to the end of 1976 revolved around their views of Guru Maharaj Ji. While they still strongly identified with him as a spiritually evolved person and someone to emulate, they had abandoned the messianic beliefs which had elevated him to the status of Avatar, Divine Incarnation, Lord of the Universe, Great King, and Messiah. Beliefs in his omniscience had definitely fallen away, as premies no longer described every event in their lives as a manifestation of his power, grace, or will. Although there were still residues of belief in his divinity in 1976, the vast majority viewed the guru primarily as their spiritual teacher, guide, and inspiration. John's view was a typical expression of the new attitude. "Basically, I see Guru Maharaj Ji as my teacher. He is the revealer of an experience we call 'Knowledge.' He's not the distant type of teacher, who doesn't know his students. He's a sensitive and careful person who knows human tendencies and problems better than anyone I've seen. The only thing he really wants to see is people living happily and harmoniously together. I'm often struck by how much he deals with the details of life, and how simple his solutions are. At the moment, I relate to him as a humanitarian leader. However, right after my initiation into the movement, I accepted the belief that he was omnipresent and all-powerful. In other words, I
believed he was Lord, God Almighty. Gradually, over the last five years, he has become a real human being in my eyes. I no longer put him up on a pedestal to worship as a God. Yet I love and deeply respect him for what he is doing."
Having quit imputing great powers to Guru Maharaj Ji by the end of 1976, premies assumed much more responsibility for their own spiritual growth. No longer did they fall back on the belief that they were being guided or protected by the guru's grace. Nor did they feel as bound to conform to the old ideas of devotion, with their ritualism and conformity.
There was much greater flexibility in the way they were able to apply their understanding of, the Knowledge. The change in Alan's orientation was typical. "When I received the Knowledge, I took on a whole set of religious beliefs and concepts. I thought Guru Maharaj Ji was the Lord, and his mother and brothers were divine beings. I took on a new life-style, became a vegetarian, followed a daily ritual, cut my hair, did service, donated money, sang Arti, prostrated to pictures of Guru Maharaj Ji, and told everyone about him and the Knowledge. Now I know that Guru Maharaj Ji is not the Lord, but a man who happens to know about a beautiful meditation which can help people become happier and more aware of their inner life. I don't care to bow or sing to his pictures anymore and I no longer have an altar in my room. I don't try to force my guru trip on people anymore. I am still a vegetarian and I still try to follow a daily schedule somewhat, but I'm letting my hair grow longer again. I'm not trying to be a saint anymore-that was a real joke. I'm just an ordinary person, not one of the chosen ones. In short, I'm trying to live a simple, unpretentious life."
From the beginning, Guru Maharaj Ji appealed to premies to give up their beliefs and concepts so that they might experience the Knowledge, or life force, more fully. This, as I have said, is one of the chief goals of gurus, to transform their followers' perceptions of the world through deconditioning. Yet Guru Maharaj Ji's emphasis on giving up beliefs and concepts did not prevent premies from adopting a fairly rigid set of ideas about his divinity and the coming of a new age.
During 1971, there were social forces encouraging the develop-
ment of millenarian beliefs within the Mission. They were developed in part by the carryover of millennial thinking from the counterculture; by the psychological trappings of surrender and idealization; by the guru's mother, whose satsang was full of references to his divine nature; and partly by the guru, himself, for letting others cast him in the role of the Lord. Given the social pressures within the premie community which reinforced these beliefs, there was little hope premies would be able to relax the hold that their beliefs and concepts had over them.
Only after 1973, when the millenarian beliefs began to wane, were premies ready for an assault on their ideology. There were two sets of beliefs and concepts they had to change: those from their earlier socialization, before receiving the Knowledge, and those they picked up from within the premie community itself.
In a sense, their withdrawal from the counterculture was probably made easier by the rigid beliefs and concepts which were in vogue in 1971-72, for they offered a concrete, alternative way of making sense of the world. Adherence to those beliefs probably contributed to the destruction of what remained of their counterculture ideology. From this point of view, the millenarian beliefs and the Indian customs they followed could be regarded as important for their evolution, since both divorced them from their counterculture life-style and beliefs. Having fully accepted an alternative reality, they were then in a position to question that too. "The flexibility of adapting to the continual changes of belief in the premie subculture comes from practising the Knowledge, which is the one common thread running through all the changes that have taken place. Experience of the Knowledge has been the constant thing, while beliefs have changed. Momentary flashes of insight during meditation, satsang, or darshan are experiences which make it easier to abandon certain beliefs and to adopt new ones. The way I see it, Knowledge is independent of any particular beliefs. The longer one practices the Knowledge, the less one can believe in anything for long."
By 1976, the community had altered its ideology to a more flexible form on the assumption that beliefs, concepts, judgments, and distinctions are obstacles in the way of a deeper experience of life. As a consequence of this increasing flexibility, premies reported a fuller
awareness of their spiritual essence. A greater joy of life, more toleration of others, an enlarged capacity to accept themselves-these, they said, were the rewards of breaking through the artificiality of their beliefs and conceptions of the world. "Just in the last six months, I have begun to feel connected in a spiritual way to Guru Maharaj Ji. I came to the point in my life where I had to make a decision. I was not understanding Divine Light Mission and Guru Maharaj Ji. But something beautiful has occurred as I've realized that I wasn't fully getting the benefits of the Knowledge. I rejected much of the facade surrounding the Mission. Well, to my surprise, I've seen beyond those facades, to some real truths. It took a long time to let go of my own concepts, believing they were of some value. Those concepts held me back from the experience of the Knowledge. I guess Guru Maharaj Ji didn't fit the image I had wanted him to. Yet, when I really experienced the peace and strength meditation allows me to feel, my doubts and mistrust of Guru Maharaj Ji have slowly turned into acceptance. And now I know the importance of meditation. Now I see that it is the way in which I, the real I, can come through in my everyday life. I have begun to experience a stronger, more loving and secure being inside of me. That sounds funny, but when I'm really into meditation I am clearly seeing myself and that self I see is beyond all the conditions and limitations that exist in the ego. I am freer to love and to experience life around me."
In 1976, all outward appearances were that premies had gone through a major change in personal outlook since 1972, for they seemed to have evolved from dependence to the point where they were willing to take personal responsibility. It is true the movement was beginning to shake somewhat from the reverberations of individualism, but premies seemed generally pleased with the way things were going; at least, that was the surface impression.
To the surprise of everyone who had come to the Atlantic City program at the close of 1976, Guru Maharaj Ji appeared in his Krishna costume, a majestic looking robe and crown he had not worn since 1975. The sight of him in his ceremonial best brought premies to their feet singing, as nostalgia for the early days caught them up in feelings of devotion once more.
Two more programs followed in Portland and Denver within
four weeks of each other, to which thousands of premies came from all parts of the country. Again, the guru appeared in his Krishna costume and, again, the old devotional songs were sung. The atmosphere was reminiscent of 1972, as Initiators began to spread the word that the time had come for a renewal of dedication and devotion to "their Lord." Acting as the vanguard for the charismatic revival, they were the first to speak again of the guru as "Messiah," a statement premies apparently wanted to hear, for since then one of the key messages at satsang has been that the guru is indeed the Lord, for premies believe he is capable of transmitting his inner light with such power as to awaken the spirit lying dormant in others.
On the whole, these premies have responded warmly to the resurrection of surrender and devotion. Alan, for example, had reached the point in 1976 where he was sure he no longer wanted to put Guru Maharaj Ji on a pedestal. Yet he has been swept back into surrender by the rising devotional sentiment in the Mission today. "We are seeing once again that the most important thing on the path of Knowledge is Guru Maharaj Ji. I know he gave me the Knowledge and that he is constantly helping me on the path, directly through his darshan and satsang, and indirectly in so many other ways. He gives me the opportunity to live in his ashram, to have satsang with his premies, to do service, and meditate. I am grateful to Guru Maharaj Ji for giving me the chance to have peace of mind and to help others. I am seeing that I am totally incapable of running my life without his guidance. I came to Guru Maharaj Ji in the first place because I was unhappy and needed help. He helped by showing me the source of peace within. I have to devote my life to him because he knows what is best for me. I would rather surrender my life to him than to anyone or anything else. I can't say who or what Guru Maharaj Ji is to anyone else, but what is important to me is that I am once again seeing that he is my Lord."
Premies like Alan who had given up their beliefs in Guru Maharaj Ji's messianic role have probably been the most dramatically affected by this charismatic revival, for they have had to radically shift the direction of their feelings. Others, as we see in the case of the following premie, have just found the current change a refreshing op-
portunity to reveal what they have long known but were afraid to express because of the climate of group opinion. "For me, Guru Maharaj Ji has always been the Lord, but there were times during the Mission's development when it was not 'cool' to express that idea in public. Recently, it is not so much a belief that Guru Maharaj Ji is the Lord which has come to me, but an understanding that his grace can help me develop a deeper experience of the Knowledge. When we had Knowledge reviews with the Initiators recently, who had had Knowledge reviews themselves directly from Guru Maharaj Ji, it was apparent from what they conveyed that Guru Maharaj Ji thoroughly understands the Knowledge and can lead his devotees to the point of realization. It is for this reason that we develop a desire to surrender to him. He is very precious to his devotees for he gives us the inspiration to keep going on this path."
Not all premies are following in step with the new trend. For instance, John had had a difficult time initially accepting the notion that Guru Maharaj Ji was the Lord. While the movement was operating under the idea that the guru was a humanitarian leader, he was with the majority and feeling comfortable there. Now he seems more removed, still under the influence of his old belief that God is unlikely to visit the earth in human form. "Personally, I don't feel affected by the current resurgence of devotion and surrender. To me, Guru Maharaj Ji is the one who showed me how to meditate, and my experience of meditation has not directed me, so far, towards devotion or surrender to him. My experience has not led me to believe that he is anything except a human being who can show people a way to meditate. It has never been proven to me that he is the Lord, or Messiah, so I do not think of him in that way."
With so many premies coming out in support of devotion, there has been a shift away from secular tendencies back to ritual and messianic beliefs and practices. There is more bowing, more pictures of the guru everywhere, more devotional singing, and Indian terms and expressions are making their way back into the language of premies. Encouraged by Guru Maharaj Ji, there is apparently less insistence on blind conformity to the crowd mentality. More tolerance is being shown as premies admit that individual experiences may differ and
each should be respected. For example, the devotional song, Arti, is being sung again, but Guru Maharaj Ji is urging those who are not moved to sing it from the heart to simply remain silent. Speaking to a conference of coordinators in Portland in 1977, he said: "This is really beautiful, you know, that everything is starting to happen over again, that premies are really understanding. But one of the things that we have to be sure about is that when premies do Arti, they understand what they're saying and that they mean it. Because there's no point to just sit there and blab about it and not even mean it. You have to really mean it. You have to really understand it. Because its a prayer. And the same thing with really listening to satsang."
At the moment, premies are being given some discretion about whether they want to participate in the resurrected ritual life. "I tend not to follow all the swings in attitudes that premies seem to manifest as a group," a premie commented. "I do think, however, that the Divine Light Mission leadership forgot an essential aspect of the whole organization; namely, that Guru Maharaj Ji is the reason we all follow the path. As for all the hoopla, chants, and singing, I don't feel comfortable with it. Guru Maharaj Ji said that premies should sing Arti only if they really feel it. I don't, so I don't participate."
At the present time, there is an attempt to find a better balance between independent and dependent forms of action, a move which is likely to prevent the replay of the disorganizing influences of 1976, at least for a time. On the one hand, premies are definitely being encouraged to surrender and to participate fully in the charismatic renewal. On the other hand, those who wish to hold back are being allowed to behave in a way which suits them. Organizationally, the balance is being struck between greater personal commitment to the guru and greater control of local affairs by premies.
Possibly it is the character of the transition the movement is in now, but there are signs of a less rigid orientation toward surrender than in 1971-72. Having had a taste of independence in 1976, perhaps premies are not anxious to swing back into the past too far, as we heard from a premie: "Maybe Guru Maharaj Ji is being seen as the Lord again, but in a less conceptually rigid way. Maybe there is the belief again that he will soon begin to bring peace to the planet as
the new Messiah, but the belief is more open. There are few cosmic notions involving extraterrestial beings, magic, and all of that. It seems that premies are now saying the same things about Guru Maharaj Ji's omniscience and power as they did in the beginning, but with a less defensive and insistent tone, for they have gone through quite a few personal changes since 1971. They're more relaxed about it, more sure of it somehow. In other words, the old beliefs are being reasserted but with a different tone; there's a twinkle in the eye, a positive and open attitude which seems to suggest a greater sense of personal confidence and strength. So its less narrow-minded than in 1971, based more on feelings of security than insecurity."
Generally, premies are elevating the guru to a much greater place in their practice of the Knowledge. Now the word is circulating that it is undesirable to try to practice the Knowledge without first submitting to him as the Perfect Master. Premies who are finding this change difficult to accept are moving toward the outer circles of the Mission at the moment. Some premies have even left the movement rather than watch from the sidelines. But the largest number seem to have surrendered to the guru, ready to rededicate themselves to the Knowledge.
Changing Attitudes Toward the Knowledge
Whereas the attitudes of premies toward Guru Maharaj Ji have taken a dramatic turn, their views of the Knowledge seem to have remained fairly constant from 1976 through the present charismatic revival. The following attitude toward the Knowledge in 1976 continues to be the most prevalent today. "I used to value the Knowledge lightly, not really understanding the strength it had. Now I see more clearly the benefits, not only in meditation but also in satsang and service. These aspects of the Knowledge made it complete; they are ways in which we can focus on our love center. To me, love is acceptance of myself and, in achieving that, I am better able to accept everything around me. I mean there is something beyond all the physical and mental material, something that keeps everything together. I feel this
thing is the Knowledge, the core of everything. If we can cut through all the beliefs and concepts which surround it we would experience the deepest peace. I guess what I'm saying is that when I am in that center of love I feel better than I ever did before. And its a natural feeling. Its not always natural or easy to get there, but when I do I know the purpose of my life and that's to be experiencing the Knowledge always, because my life will be real when I do."
In 1971-72, the Knowledge was viewed in very cosmic terms. Premies felt if they meditated regularly, attended satsang, and did service they would ultimately be joined with God. Living a pure life within the confines of surrender, they were usually holding out for more than they were getting. As I have argued, by trying to be saints they created much of their own suffering. By 1976, these attitudes toward the Knowledge had been largely discarded, as we hear from Alan. "When I received the Knowledge, there were so many trips tied to it. I thought I had to become one with God. I thought I had to renounce the world and become a celibate monk the rest of my life. I thought I had to be a Mahatma! I was often frustrated because I couldn't live up to my own loftly standards. I often felt guilty because I didn't feel an overwhelming love for Guru Maharaj Ji, and I really didn't care that much if I was around him. Now, I'm just trying to relax. Knowledge is not a certain life-style, nor is it a complicated trip. It is just that very simple energy I experience in meditation."
As premies have realized that the Knowledge is everywhere in whatever experience they are having, they have quit longing so much for the cosmic experience which was in demand after psychedelics and have come to accept more of what is happening to them at each moment, whether good or bad. Walt expressed that change in outlook. "I feel more like the experience and practice of Knowledge are a natural part of my life and not so much an imposed discipline I have to practice. Knowledge seems more expansive to me now, as I realize that others, besides premies, are in on it. I am more satisfied with whatever experience I'm having, rather than looking for something supposedly higher."
Looking back over their lives since receiving the Knowledge, most premies found it easy in 1976 to think in terms of an "old self" falling from grace and a "new self" emerging from the experience of the Knowledge. The differences are striking, as we hear from a premie who was guilt-ridden and frequently depressed before her initiation. "Neurotic would be the best term I could use to describe my 'old self.' All of the world was a potential stimulus to gratify my ego or to be down on myself. There were never any shades of grey, just up and down. Basically, I was very negative about my life. I can remember experiencing a lot of pain and frustration and when things didn't go my way I would get upset. I can remember questioning if love even existed, and if it did, was it worth anything. One principle I lived by then was that the more complicated you could make your trip, the 'groovier' you were. Being heavy was 'far out,' so naturally I tried to be heavy and complex. My 'new self,' on the other hand, can experience the flow of life without breaking it down through categorization and analysis. My peace of mind is not as dependent on events and people as it used to be. There is a new acceptance of myself, that I am fine the way I am, that I don't need to be like some other person or to do a particular trip to be okay. Also, I really am experiencing what love is, that deep personal experience which cannot be described, but only felt. Simplicity is beautiful now and I would never have imagined that keeping things simple would help to keep my peace of mind and to keep my awareness focused on the positive acid beautiful side of life."
It would be an overstatement to say that the premie's "old self" has disappeared entirely and the "new self" has taken complete dominion. As I suggested earlier, we should only expect a shift of control within the individual, as the spiritual, loving side assumes a more commanding role in the regulation of the ego, especially its negative feelings and desires. The "old self" is likely to remain for some time, although in a less prominent position. As one premie put it: "Through meditation you come to distinguish thoughts from the experience of the void beyond thoughts. Yon gradually begin to pay less
heed to your thoughts, and to realize that your 'old self' is simply a result of socialization. When you experience a deep meditation, you see that the 'old self' is not there, so it becomes less real to you. Thus, you're less bound to be it. Also, because you see it as less real, you feel less upset by it and that makes you less eager to reject it."
Before he received the Knowledge Alan was very introverted and paranoid. You will remember he had a hard time relating to people, especially females. He used drugs and drank beer and wine to escape from his miseries. He was eventually arrested for dealing drugs and was expelled from college. He spent a lot of time wondering how he had become the person he was. "My 'old self,'" he said, "was often sad and lonely. I felt I was tolerated, sometimes liked, but never loved. The 'old self' is still around, but to a lesser degree. My 'new self' still has problems, but doesn't worry about them so much. He still has the idea sometimes that people don't like him, but often ignores that idea and reaches out to them anyway. He is mellower, as the emotional intensity has worn down a lot. He is more open to other people and to new experiences. He doesn't use drugs, alcohol, or get arrested anymore."
Helen described herself as "very old, tired, and lost" before she received the Knowledge. "My 'old self' was sort of blindly stumbling along wondering if there was any real meaning to life-or desperately seeking it-unaware that there was any experience beyond this physical world. Today, I have a conscious awareness of a higher purpose to my life and a higher consciousness which is attainable. The changes I've gone through since receiving the Knowledge have given my life a strong, constructive direction. Having more love inside me has helped me develop more loving relationships with others. Its helped me focus on the beauty of life rather than so much on my own suffering and the suffering of the world."
Before his initiation into the Mission, Marc felt generally happy, but "not complete, not a whole person." "Today, I'm still generally happy, but feel more completed. I view all situations as opportunities to learn. Even 'negative' experiences seem to have their positive side and are a lesson to learn from. Above all, I'm learning to be con-
scious. I'm also finding it easier to be honest with myself and to trust the rate of my personal growth."
It is interesting to view the transformation of these premies in light of the "human potential movement" which is going on in so many different forms in American society. Part of bringing the "old self" under control is accepting it, then the individual becomes more willing to communicate and express the "weaknesses" which had been carefully concealed from others. Indeed, in the human potential movement, acceptance of oneself at this level is regarded as one of the keys to personal growth. This has apparently been important in the development of these premies as well. No longer identifying so strongly with their personalities, they show signs of accepting themselves more fully and seem freer to express what they feel. John's experience reflects this basic change. "It wasn't until recently that I began to feel I really have nothing to fear about letting my personality hang out. I feel my uniqueness as an individual is something that shouldn't remain hidden, because, to me, its beautiful, even the negative' aspects of it."
With greater acceptance of themselves and what is happening each moment of their lives, these premies find life less of a struggle. Striving for sainthood, for the cosmic connection, for enlightenment are still important. But they will continue to be less prominent, unless the charismatic revival renews the hope for a mystical breakthrough. In 1976, premies were more inclined to just enjoy life and the experience of peace for what they were. Helen's words capture the feeling. "Experiencing the Knowledge has affected my life in a subtle, but basic way. It has brought more calm, more love, into my life and has strengthened my connection to my life force, or God."
Underlying the increasing ease of living which all of these premies reported in 1976 was a basic recognition of spiritual unity, as identification with the life force, or Knowledge, affirmed their equality with others. That experience effectively counteracted their sense of alienation from others and from society, especially among those like Alan who were the most emotionally troubled before their initia-
tion. The change in Alan's ability to relate socially is an indication of the power of this spiritual experience. "I used to feel so inferior to others," he said, "but now I can see that, basically, we're the same. That makes it much easier for me to relate to others, so now my social life is a little better. Sometimes I even feel a lot of love and bliss inside and that is great. Sometimes I'm able to help others a little bit."
The aimlessness and lack of meaning which prevailed in their early lives has all but disappeared, for their involvement in the Mission has given their lives a definite direction and purpose. At one level, meaning developed as a consequence of their spiritual experience; at another, it emerged through the discovery of a social niche in the premie community. "I now know who I am, where I'm going, and why. Eliminating those confusions has made my life very easy."
There is little doubt in my mind that these premies have changed in a positive way. Today, they seem less alienated, aimless, worried, afraid, and more peaceful, loving, confident, and appreciative of life. We could attribute these changes to surrender, devotion, and their involvement in the premie community. Each of these undoubtedly had a positive impact, but, if we accept what premies say, none were as critical as their experience of the universal spirit. Meditating on the life-energy for five years, they report having more positive attitudes about themselves. Perhaps Walt captures the feeling best: "Today, I'm less paranoid, fearful, unhappy, hung up, and selfish. I'm still basically the same person, but now I'm more positive, confident, understanding of others, stronger as a person, and happier."
These may be sobering thoughts for premies who still entertain world-saving fantasies. Yet, at this stage, such fantasies are a threat to the survival of the Mission as a spiritual alternative - a fact Guru Maharaj Ji seems to have grasped, for starting in 1977 he has encouraged premies to be realistic as they face the task of spreading the Knowledge. His current emphasis on the need to take stock of reality may check the unrealistic hopes of some premies and save them from disillusionment.
Chapter 7. Psychedelics: Blowing Open the Doors of Perception
1. Guru Maharaj Ji : Reflections on an Indian Sunrise (a short collection of Guru Maharaj Ji's satsang, 1973), p. 25. Dates noted in the text next to Guru Maharaj ji's name are the years when his satsang was given.
2. And It Is Divine (the U.S. Mission's main publication) (January 1973), p. 45.
3. Ibid. (March 1975), p. 39.
4. Guru Maharaj Ji. Reflections on in Indian Sunrise (1973), p. 4.
2. And It Is Divine (April 1973), p. 63.
Chapter 8. Between the Sacred and Profane
3. Benjamin Weininger, "The Interpersonal Factor in Religious Experience," Psychoanalysis 3 (1955), p. 33.
4. Guru Maharaj Ji: Reflections on an Indian Sunrise (1973), p. 4.
5. And It Is Divine (December 1972), p. 4.
6. Divine Light (a British publication of the Mission) (April 1972), p. 23.
7. Guru Maharaj Ji: Reflections on an Indian Sunrise (1973), p. 25.
8. Satguru Maharaj Ji (a pamphlet; date unknown, but c. 1972), p. 7.
Chapter 9. Preparation
1. Divine Light (April 1972), p. 25.
2. Ibid., p. 24.
3. Divine Times (the Mission's U. S. newspaper) (February 15, 1973), p. 6.
4. Ibid. April 20, 1972), p. 3.
5. Ibid. (February 15, 1973), p. 7.
6. Divine Light (November 1972), p. 24.
7. And It Is Divine (December 1972), p. 7.
Chapter 10. Encounters with God
1. Divine Light (March 1972), p. 22.
2. Ibid. (April 1972), p. 23.
3. Guru Maharaj Ji: Reflections on an Indian Sunrise (1973), p. 5.
4. Divine Light February 1972), p. 5.
5. Ibid. (November 1972), p. 18.
6. Guru Maharaj Ji: Reflections on an Indian Sunrise (1973), p. 15.
7. And It Is Divine ( January 1973), p. 49.
Chapter 11. Metamorphosis
1. And It Is Divine (March 1973), pp. 54-55.
2. Ibid. (December 1972), p. 49.
3. Ibid. (March 1973), p. 54.
4. Guru Puja (a pamphlet) (1972), p. 12.
5. And It Is Divine (October 1973), pp. 58-59.
16. And It Is Divine (January 1973), p. 48.
17. Divine Light (March 1972), p. 14.
18. Guru Maharaj Ji: Reflections on an Indian Sunrise (1973), p. 28.
Chapter 12. Changes
1. Satsang given to a conference of premies in Denver, January 25, 1976. (Downton wrote "later that year" but it was actually 11 months later, 18th & 19th December)
2. S. N. Eisenstadt (ed.), May Weber: On Charisma and Institution Building Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968).
3. Sophia Collier, Soul Rush: The Odyssey of a Young Woman of the ?70s New York: William Morrow, 1978), p. 157, 162. (Sophia Collier had a particular animus agsinst Rawat's mother and eldest brother. There is no other evidence that Bal Bhagwan Ji was the source of the outlandish ideas about Millenium '73)
4. Communication from a Mission official. (Evidence that Rawat's mother and eldest brother were telling the truth about the guru was later revealed by many of DLM's managers)
5. Ibid. ( see For Your Inspiration)
6. Satsang given to a conference of premies in late December 1975. (In fact, it was not at a conference but at a surprise visit to a weekly community meeting)
7. Satsang given to a conference of premies in Denver, January 25, 1976. (Downton has taken this out of context. The following sentence is "Some day, when they really surrender and really realize this Knowledge, really realize the importance of service, they will go out into the world and tell people and make room for the other patients.")
8. Satsang given to a conference of premies in Lima, Peru, November 18, 1976.
10. Satsang given to a conference of premies in Denver, January 25, 1976.